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Non-government organisation Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) on Sunday (13 August) denounced an employer for housing construction workers in unacceptable conditions and providing them spoiled food.
MWC teams made surprise visits past midnight on 13 Aug to apartments in Geylang housing migrant workers and gathered evidence of the poor conditions, which included signs of cockroach and bedbug infestations, overcrowding, and “filthy” sleeping quarters.
In a statement released by MWC’s chairman Yeo Guat Kwang, he said the workers’ rights body would pass its evidence to the authorities and urge stern action against the employer in order to deter other “unscrupulous and exploitative” firms.
Yeo said the visits were made at two flats in Lorongs 13 and 17 Geylang, in response to complaints made by workers. MWC had been assisting 20 Bangladeshi workers with their salary arrears claims against three related construction companies. All three companies were apparently controlled by a Bangladeshi permanent resident. These workers had complained about their accommodation and meals in the past week.
An MWC spokesperson told Yahoo News Singapore that one of the three companies is SJH Trading. She said she did not have the names of the other companies.
There were tell-tale signs of bug and mite infestations in the apartments, according to MWC. There were marks on the walls that were left when bedbugs were squashed.
The teams observed that the apartments housed more than the allowed number of eight occupants per unit. Common and sleeping areas were unhygienic, with poor ventilation and circulation.
Electrical points and multi-plug extensions were overloaded, and there was no proper storage for occupants’ belongings, which were strewn around common areas.
Workers had to hang their clothes from makeshift clothes lines and nails punched into walls as no proper laundry and drying facilities were provided.
Many workers slept on the floor, including in corridors and common living areas, as proper bedding was not provided.
Yeo said the toilets and shower compartments provided at the dormitories were “unacceptably filthy”, and the facilities were inadequate as 11 to 13 occupants in each unit were sharing one toilet.
Meals left to go bad, fire and health hazards
In the unit at Lorong 13 Geylang, the MWC team found that meals for the entire workforce of three companies were being prepared, sorted and packed near where the workers slept.
More than 100 packets of the day’s breakfast and lunch had already been cooked and packed for collection later, more than seven hours before consumption of breakfast, and more than 12 hours before lunch would be consumed.
Workers at both premises told MWC officers that the employer charged each worker $130 per month for the catered food, even though meals were often inedible due to having gone bad. The cost of the meals was deducted from the workers’ salaries.
Yeo said, “We find this arrangement unacceptable, especially in addition to the obvious fire and health hazards of having an industrial catering operation housed in an old third storey walk-up apartment, and in close proximity to the sleeping areas of what the occupants told us could be anywhere upwards of 30 workers at peak occupancy.
“At the Lor 13 and 17 Geylang units, there was a blatant disregard for the potentially disastrous consequences should an incident of fire or disease occur.”
Yeo added that MWC was putting the employer on notice over his failure to provide safe and acceptable accommodation for his workers.
Yeo said the status of the workers’ salary claims are at various stages within the claims processing, with some still under mediation and others scheduled for hearing at the Employment Claims Tribunal.
The MWC urges all migrant workers facing unfair treatment from their employers to notify it immediately for assistance. They can call the 24-hour helpline at 6536-2692.